Nav: Home

More to rainbows than meets the eye

August 25, 2016

In-depth review charts the scientific understanding of rainbows and highlights the many practical applications of this fascinating interaction between light, liquid and gas.

There's more to rainbows than meets the eye. Knowledge gained from studying these multicoloured arcs of scattered light can be incredibly useful in ways that may not immediately spring to mind. Rainbow effects can warn of chemical contamination in the atmosphere, help to develop more efficient combustion engines and possibly even provide insight into the mechanics of reinforced concrete.

Writing in European Journal of Physics, Alexander Haußmann of the Institute of Applied Physics at the Technical University of Dresden, Germany, has reviewed the latest developments in the field of rainbow research. His article takes a comprehensive look at natural rainbows and touches on the many practical applications of this fascinating interaction between light, liquid and gas.

Haußmann has been studying rainbows for more than 20 years. His interest began at school where he and his friends would log meteorological data for fun to keep tabs on changes in the weather. Today, weather watching has become more sophisticated with the introduction of techniques such as radar remote sensing, but observing rainbows remains important. As Haußmann points out, these patterns of scattered light can provide considerable clues to the size distribution and shape of raindrops falling during wet weather. If paired with radar data, this information could be used to quantify the amount of rainwater reaching the ground. "If our analysis methods are precise enough, we can turn rainbows into optical remote sensing tools to study the physics of rain," he comments.

Haußmann's review delves deep into the challenges of simulating rainbows as mathematical modeling is an important tool in furthering our understanding of this field. There are some key points that add to the puzzle. "Rain drops are not exactly spherical, but become deformed into slightly flattened 'hamburger bun' shapes due to air drag as they fall through the sky," he explained. "This has a drastic influence on the appearance of rainbows and makes scattering calculations numerically very demanding."

As well as focusing on the science, the article also provides tips for capturing rainbows on camera, which could help to win bragging rights on Instagram and other popular photo-sharing websites. "Rainbows are short-lived and special phenomena such as twinned bows are pretty rare, so it's important to always have your camera to hand," recommends Haußmann. "This can be a smartphone or, in my case, an SLR camera with a fisheye lens to capture the full width of a rainbow in a single frame."
-end-
Notes to Editors

Contact

For further information, including the paper or spokesperson contact details, please contact:

Emma Watkins
Content and Engagement Marketing Manager
IOP Publishing
Tel 01179301034
Email emma.watkins@iop.org

Philippa Skett
Media Officer
Institute of Physics
Tel 0207 470 4829
Email philippa.skett@iop.org

For more information on how to use the embargoed material, please refer to IOP Publishing's embargo policy.

Paper

The published version of the paper "Rainbows in nature: recent advances in observation and theory" (Alexander Haußmann 2016 Eur. J. Phys. 37 063001) will be freely available online from 26 August 2016. It will be available at http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0143-0807/37/6/063001. DOI: 10.1088/0143-0807/37/6/063001.

About European Journal of Physics

With a world-wide readership and authors from every continent, European Journal of Physics is a truly international journal dedicated to maintaining and improving the standard of taught physics in universities and other higher education institutes. Go to http://iopscience.org/ejp.

About IOP Publishing

IOP Publishing provides publications through which leading-edge scientific research is distributed worldwide. IOP Publishing is central to the Institute of Physics, a not-for-profit society. Any financial surplus earned by IOP Publishing goes to support science through the activities of the Institute. Go to http://ioppublishing.org or follow us @IOPPublishing.

About the Institute of Physics

The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application. We engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications. Visit us at http://www.iop.org. Follow IOP on Twitter via @PhysicsNews.

IOP Publishing

Related Physics Articles:

Diamonds coupled using quantum physics
Researchers at TU Wien have succeeded in coupling the specific defects in two such diamonds with one another.
The physics of wealth inequality
A Duke engineering professor has proposed an explanation for why the income disparity in America between the rich and poor continues to grow.
Physics can predict wealth inequality
The 2016 election year highlighted the growing problem of wealth inequality and finding ways to help the people who are falling behind.
Physics: Toward a practical nuclear pendulum
Researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) Munich have, for the first time, measured the lifetime of an excited state in the nucleus of an unstable element.
Flowers use physics to attract pollinators
A new review indicates that flowers may be able to manipulate the laws of physics, by playing with light, using mechanical tricks, and harnessing electrostatic forces to attract pollinators.
Physics, photosynthesis and solar cells
A University of California, Riverside assistant professor has combined photosynthesis and physics to make a key discovery that could help make solar cells more efficient.
2-D physics
Physicist Andrea Young receives a 2016 Packard Fellowship to pursue his studies of van der Waals heterostructures.
Cats seem to grasp the laws of physics
Cats understand the principle of cause and effect as well as some elements of physics.
Plasma physics' giant leap
For the first time, scientists are looking at real data -- not computer models, but direct observation -- about what is happening in the fascinating region where the Earth's magnetic field breaks and then joins with the interplanetary magnetic field.
Nuclear physics' interdisciplinary progress
The theoretical view of the structure of the atom nucleus is not carved in stone.

Related Physics Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...